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Working towards a smokefree generation

As dental professionals, we are on the frontline in the battle against periodontal disease and oral cancer, and smoking is one of the main risk factors for both conditions.

Mick Armstrong wearing a brown suit and checked shirt.
Mick Armstrong BDA Health and Science Committee Chair

We play an essential role in early identification and signposting patients to smoking cessation aids and schemes. With the prevalence of oral cancer rising, nation-wide interventions and prevention programmes are needed to support the aim of better oral health for the population.

We are supporting the Government’s proposal to limit the age of sale for tobacco products. We have also called for the employment of tighter restrictions on vapes to reduce their uptake in children and young people.

The plan for a smokefree generation

On Thursday 12 October 2023, the Government launched a consultation on proposed action meant to protect future generations from the harms of smoking, by creating a smokefree generation. The consultation proposes to introduce legislation to ban the sale of tobacco products to those born after 1 January 2009.

Recent findings link vapes to periodontal disease.

We have always been supportive of any measure to minimise uptake and promote cessation of smoking, particularly among children and young people. We agree with the Government’s proposed plan, given the serious risks that highly toxic, and addictive, tobacco products pose to oral health. While we accept the harms from vaping are less than from smoking, recent findings link vapes to periodontal disease, alongside the startlingly high uptake in children and young people.

There is evidence of a significant increase in the use of disposable vapes by children, with a survey by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) reporting that 69% of vape users aged 11 to 17 years mainly used disposable vapes in 2023. The introduction of this ban would help ensure children and young people do not become addicted to nicotine in the first place. YouGov research found that almost five million disposable vapes are either littered or thrown away in general waste every week. If not disposed of correctly these can contaminate waterways and soil.

The rise of vaping amongst young people

Recent figures by ASH have showed that the number of children using vapes has tripled in the past three years. While they may have a role to play in smoking cessation, I have previously advised on the need for a guarded approach by government to their promotion as an alternative to smoking. Given the current gaps in science, limited epidemiologic evidence is available raising concerns about oral dryness, irritation, and gingival diseases.

The number of children using vapes has tripled in the past three years.

Alongside plans for a smokefree generation, the Government is considering a range of measures, such as restricting the flavours of vapes and their packaging, to crack down on the number of young people taking up vaping. However, we also need to ensure that sufficient advertising controls are in place to prevent such uptake, the rates of which are alarming.

We have recommended placing restrictions on the flavours, brand names, packaging, and display of vapes to limit their palatability, attractiveness, and visibility to young people. We have also suggested that vapes should be sold alongside information leaflets detailing instructions on their use as cessation aids and smoking cessation support services and approaches, to support those trying to quit.

The need for a prevention package

Overall, we welcome efforts to reduce the number of people who begin smoking and vaping. However, I want to stress that cessation aids should not be viewed as a “silver bullet” but should be used as part of a prevention package, which would include other interventions, like professional smoking cessation support.

Alongside this, ensuring adequate access to oral healthcare can support smoking cessation efforts. Dentists and the oral healthcare team play a vital role in supporting and signposting patients who wish to stop smoking and provide indispensable access for all to the early diagnosis of diseases caused by substance abuse.